Despite a grim outlook on foreign affairs, such as in China and the Middle East, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he remains optimistic about the future of the United States.
Approximately 5,000 people came to Gallagher-Iba Arena on the Oklahoma State campus on Wednesday to listen to Gates, who served as the 22nd secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011.
Gates also worked with the Central Intelligence Agency beginning in 1966 and served as director from 1991 to 1993.
OSU President Burns Hargis said Gates' knowledge should provide students and the Stillwater community with interesting insight during the height of election season.
“Having served our nation under eight U.S. presidents, allows him to share insight on national security matters that few others can provide,” Hargis said.
Gates' first topic of significance was about China and what its growing power in the world means for international protection.
“The impact of China with respect to global trade, commerce and balance of payments is well known,” Gates said. “What is less well known are the global security implications due to China's growing wealth and influence. We know that China is investing its huge foreign cash reserve, which now reaches several trillion dollars, in new military capabilities that could alter the balance of military power in the Pacific.”
Gates then shifted his speech to the Middle East; focusing on Iran and its desire to develop nuclear weapons. Gates said the conflict between Israel and Iran cannot be allowed to escalate for fear of the U.S. being drawn into another conflict.
“Let there be no mistake,” he said, “an Israeli attack would be seen in the region and in the Muslim world more broadly as being sanctioned and underwritten by the United States, with the same consequences that would attach to a direct American strike.”
While keeping a serious tone for most of the night, Gates also touched on a few lighthearted topics: Why he thinks the recent Hollywood blockbuster “Argo” is the best movie ever made about the CIA; and how under his command the CIA once ran a covert operation with the help of a cat.
“We knew that some terrorists were doing some planning of an operation in a conference room in an East German embassy,” he said. “There was a cat that slept in the conference room most of the time and so after a great deal of planning we kidnapped the cat and we planted a listening device in the cat where we knew no one would look.”
Gates also touched on what he thinks young adults should look out for with each candidate in the coming election.
“I've worked for eight presidents and there is nothing that can prepare you to be president of the United States,” he said. “I think at the end of the day what people need to look at is character and temperament. The temperament is really important rather than specific skills or command of certain issues.”
Gates wrapped up his hour-long speech by saying that even with the number of issues weighing on the U.S. internationally, the ability to keep our country at the height of global, economic, political and military pre-eminence will not depend on the actions of other countries, but on the actions of Americans themselves.
“It will depend on our character as a people, the sacrifices we are willing to accept and the courage and unity we demonstrate,” Gates said.
“I believe we will prove worthy.”
I've worked for eight presidents and there is nothing that can prepare you to be President of the United States.”